Sand, wind, brick and sun of Ilocos Norte

The province is definitely a great mix of natural wonders and cultural heritage. There is just much to explore in one day!

The Search for the Sand Dunes

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by manlalakbay on November 4, 2011

The Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes is quite a popular spot for movie locations, often made to look like a desert or a desserted island. Most famous among the Hollywood movies shot here was Platoon, starring Tom Cruise. In the local scene, there have been a lot of classic Filipino movies that were shot in the place. Among these were Panday ("Blacksmith," a folk fantasy flick), Himala ("Miracles," a religious commentary film) and the original and remake of Temptation Island (a campy unintentional comedy about five beauty pageant finalist stuck in a desert island).

Having these films in its roster, it was definitely a must-visit. It was 4.30 PM when we left Paoay to proceed to the Ilocos Sand Dunes. Our problem was we were not sure how to get there. We knew the general direction but had no idea where exactly it was, thus we were hoping there were indicative signs similar to other known locations in Ilocos Norte.

After a while, we came across a spot which had a sign saying "Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes" 2.5KM ahead. The spot was by the Paoay Lake where several travel companies were offering 4X4 rides to the sand dunes as well as sand boarding. This would cost us P2,500 (around $50) which we did not have a budget for the moment.

Since we saw the sign, we knew we were on the right track. However, as we cruised along, we did not see anything that could tell us we were there, so my husband cruised on. After a while I told my husband that we have gone beyond 2.5KM and should start asking people.

This is when the tricky part began. We asked local vendors by the road where the La Paz sand dunes were. They had this confused look on their faces... "sandon? sandyun?" I was a bit alarmed with that reaction. They told us to try and go to Fort Ilocandia, one of the more famous hotels in the area. We decided to go that general direction since we knew that the place was near the sand dunes as well.

As we were reaching Fort Ilocandia, we decided to ask a tricycle driver again. He gave us that blank look again until my husband had the brilliant idea of telling the guy, "that place where they had the Panday shoot?" And there it was, recognition on his face! He said we already passed it and needed to backtrack. He also told us we could proceed to Fort Ilocandia to have a quick view of the place.

Since we were only a short distance away from Fort Ilocandia, we decided to go ahead there. When we reached the place, we saw a small beach resort but not the sand dunes. We asked a security guard about it, and not only did he know where the place was, he told us exactly what to look for. When we backtrack, we had to look for a sign that says "MJG Beach Resort" since it was located by the sand dunes. He told us we can go to the beach and from there we could see some of the dunes.

Since it was sunset, we decided to have a quick go. The sunset was absolutely beautiful! From the beach, we could actually see the dunes. We thought of walking all the way there but figured it might not be a good idea since it was already dusk. We decided to follow the guard's directions.

Finally, we saw the MJG Resort sign and turned right. The road was paved but steep and curving. My husband was a bit worried since there were no lights so we knew we really could not stay long. After 15 minutes, we finally saw a couple of 4x4's parked by the side of a sandy road. We were there!

My husband talked to one of the drivers and informed me that our Toyota Vios can make it up to half kilometer. So we took the car. However, my husband for some reason decided to take the left side of the road but I told him that the right side looks easier to go through. So he steered to the right which became trouble. Our car would not move and the tires were getting buried in the sand! Uh-oh!

It was already more dark than light so he did get worried. I told him to go back to the driver he talked to and see if he could help. I stayed by the car. A few minutes later, a pick up with a bunch of middle aged men came from the dunes and saw our car stuck by the sand. They stopped and asked what the matter was and I explained it to them. They said they will just push the car. With six guys lifting and pushing the car and one of them by the wheel, they were able to get the car out. It was at this time that my husband also came with the 4x4 driver. The one driving drove our car around and brought it back to the waiting area.

Whew! If not for those men, I would have not known what we could have done! It turned out that the one driving was the village captain. I could not be happier seeing a local official than I was that night!

We hardly saw the sand dunes, but boy, did it give us an adventure not to be easily forgotten! Thanks to the kindness of strangers, we made it out safe and sound.

Paoay Church

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by manlalakbay on November 4, 2011

The St. Augustine Church is more popularly known as Paoay Church. Paoay is actually the name of the town where it is located. The Church is one of the most iconic structures of the Ilocos Norte region. Photos of it are usually used for postcards for Ilocos Norte.

The Church has been declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. This is no surprise because compared to many other churches in the Philippines, it is one of the most well-preserved among the old baroque churches built during the Spanish times.

The structure was built from corals, bricks, tree sap and lumber. The structure was initially established by Augustinian friars in the late 1694. It was fully finished in 1894.

Not only does the church have religious significance, it also has a very significant place in Philippine history. During the revolution against the Spaniards, its bell tower was used as a look out post for the Katipuneros. The Katipuneros were the rebel fighters who fought for freedom against Spain. It once again became a strategic watchtower during World War II against the Japanese.

In front of the church is a well-manicured lawn where families and friends hang out. The emerald green grass provide a contrast against the dull red and gray of the church. There are also a couple of acacia trees which provide people cool shade especially during warm summers.

If you go inside, the interior is definitely more modern than its exterior, though there are some old statues of saints and confessional boxes that still remain. Even the old style elevated pulpit for the priests is still there but has become more decorative rather than functional.

Looking at the Paoay Church, it is no wonder that it has become iconic of Ilocos Norte. It is living memory of a colorful religious and historical past of the Philippines.
Paoay Church

Paoay, Ilocos Norte

Rockin' Kapurpurawan Rock Formation

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by manlalakbay on November 1, 2011

While doing research on places to see in Ilocos, one consistent thing from biogs was that the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation was their favorite. It was something I had to see for myself, what exactly this hype was about.

It can be found in the town of Burgos, which is about an hour's ride from Laoag City. Those driving must make sure to look at the left side of the road because that is the side where the signs are located. The turn for the rock formation is actually just a few kilometers from the turn to Cape Bojeador Lighthouse.

The descending path leading to it is quite rocky and just wide enough for one vehicle to pass. From the highway, it is about 3.1KM but it took us around 30 minutes to get there since we had to be careful going down.

When we got to the end of the trail, we could already see a bit of the rock formation. There was an area for parking so we left our car there and wend down the stairs. There was a short stretch of a natural tunnel of plants eventually leading to a wide expanse of dead coral formation that would lead to the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation.

Even from afar, it was already a spectacular sight. It dazzled white in the morning sun, which is true to its name. The root word of Kapurpurawan is "puraw" which means white. It was a perfect contrast to the deep blue of the sea and the dirty brown of the dead corals.

A bit of advice for those intent on going there, make sure your slippers can handle sharp rocks. Crocs or FitFlops or Havaianas would suffer from the jagged corals.

The good thing about being early, there were only a couple of other people sharing the space with us. The not so great thing about it was the formation was against the light, thus making it less photogenic than it can be. However, that did not stop us from hogging the camera anyway. Looking at the rock formation, it reminded me of a ship.

When we got to the spot, I discovered that it was not the rock that was white. Rather it was white because of the sand that coated it. If the place were not too famous to tourists, I could just actually hang out there and have a meal while listening to the waves crashing against the rock and the dead corals. Without people, it was a very peaceful place to be.

As the morning got later, more people started coming in. We decided to explore the other side of the rock formation which people seem to have forgotten about. After getting to the other side, we saw that Kapurpurawan actually has a better profile on its more popular side. Nonetheless, it was still a magnificent place. The rocky wonder has been chiseled by time, wind, sand and water. I could not help buy revel in its beauty..

The best place about the other side was we had it all to ourselves. We had so much fun exploring that we spent around two hours in the area, the longest we have stayed anywhere other than our hotel.

Like most Ilocos Norte attractions, the waves added to the drama of the place. The most drama it showcased was the wild splashing of the water as it crashed against the rocks.

If you like to take pictures or enjoy having your picture taken, this place should definitely in your list of places to visit.
Kapurpurawan Rock Formation
Near Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
Burgos, Ilocos Norte

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by manlalakbay on November 1, 2011

During my first visit to Ilocos, the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse was one of my favorite attractions. That is why I was determined to be able to show it to my husband who has never been to Ilocos before.

After our visit to Bangui windmills, we tried to hurry to the lighthouse which I knew offered a spectacular view of the sunset. We got to the lighthouse around 5.20PM but apparently it closes at 5PM. I found this unfortunate because the natural light of the sunset would have made for good photos.

Not to be easily discouraged, we decided to sit by the steps and just watch the sun set over Cape Bojeador, which was what the part of the sea one can see from the lighthouse. It was definitely a dramatic sunset though cut short by appearance of clouds.

We decided to come back the next day to be able to take pictures inside the lighthouse. We did.

One of the things people must remember, it is a functioning lighthouse up to this date. It was built in the late 1800s to guide the way of passing Spanish galleons. At present, the lighthouse operates on solar panels, which I personally appreciate since it is renewable energy.

Finding the lighthouse would be easy whether you car coming from the direction of Laoag or of Pagudpud because there are easily visible signs that point motorists where to go. Getting to the lighthouse is a general ascending direction but with the paved road, this does not pose a problem. It actually attracts more tourists to come.

There is a small museum inside the lighthouse which is supposed to show photos and some news clippings of the lighthouse. When I was there last 2003, the photos were still in good condition. Eight years after, the photos were just a marble of colors probably from rains that may have dripped through its ceilings. It was a bit sad to see that the Museum was not fully maintained, but it does not take away from the beauty of the lighthouse.

Like most old structures of Ilocos, it was made of red brick. It has three levels, one of which looked like a garage (though it seems impossible to bring a car over through stairs), the level where the museum was along with three other locked rooms, then a stairs which led to the tower itself.

The entrance to the tower was closed to the public. I don't know when they allow people to see it because I've seen photos in which people were beside the light of the lighthouse. Oh well.

The lighthouse remains to be one of my favorite things to take pictures of in Ilocos Norte. While it may have lost a bit of its history and seem to be more dilapidated than last I remember, it remains a must-visit site. Going there is visiting a bit of our local history.
Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
Vigia de Nagparitan Hill
Burgos, Ilocos Norte

Windblown by the Bangui windmills

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by manlalakbay on November 1, 2011

One of the main reasons why I wanted to go back to Ilocos was to see the Bangui windmills. The first time I went to Ilocos Norte in 2003, it was still not established. Having seen several photos from friends, as well as having lived in Netherlands for a while, I thought it a necessity to see the Bangui windmills.

Bangui is actually the name of the town where the windmills are located. Officially it is called Northwind Bangui Bay project. There are 20 windmills, each standing 70 meters tall with turbines spanning around 40 meters long. It is the first wind farm in the Philippines and situated on the beach of Bangui facing the South China Sea. The windmills are able to provide up to 40% of the electricity needs of the province.

It was no wonder why Bangui Bay was the chosen location for the windmills. The winds were quite strong especially in the afternoon. The waves coming in were quite strong and constant, not all stopping for a break. The waters raging against the shore, coming in so strong you could see it creating mist.

Even while we were driving on the road on the way to the Patapat Viaduct, we could already see the windmills peeping out in the horizon. For someone who has lived in the Philippines most of my life, I could not help but be thrilled that we have something like the Bangui project which produces renewable energy. Not only was it ecologically friendly, it was also pleasing to look at.

From the main highway, it is still a long ride down to the beach. It's around 2.5KM away from the main highway. On cemented road, that would be a piece of cake but it's actually more of a descending (or ascending, depending where you are coming from) rocky single path trail. There are two entrances to the windmills, with the other one showing signs of being cemented.

Upon reaching Bangui bay, these man-made wonders provide a picturesque view, breaking the wild natural beauty of the beach with it's uniform whiteness. We were able to see it at dusk as well as early morning. Either way, the structures were very photogenic.

During our morning visit, my husband tried to run from one windmill to the other. However, he decided to come back by the time he reached the sixth windmill because he was already getting a blister on his foot from the small rocks that the beach was made of. I think it was more of running barefoot, really.

Overall, I was glad that my motivation for coming to Ilocos did not disappoint. Once again, the province was able to establish a man-made structure that worked well with its natural environment. Definitely a must-visit.
Bangui Windmills
Luzon Island
Bangui, Ilocos Norte

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